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Gaza: The last game ...

A story witnessed by the war correspondent Panos Haritos*

In Gaza, it doesn't matter what you did, where you went, what you've learned and what you have in mind to write. In the end, Gaza itself will guide you on the subject.

So, yesterday, after a three-hour wandering in the Zeitoun neighborhood and one hour during the afternoon in the city of Gaza, I returned to the hotel. I stayed in the dining room for while, discussing with the rest of my colleagues and then I went upstairs in my room on the second floor of the Beach Hotel, in front of the beach. Instinctively, my first move when I walked in, was, as always, to open the window, so that the shock wave would not break the glasses during the bombardments.

I sat on the table, switched on my computer, and looked at the time on the upper side of the screen. It was 16:16 when I heard the first sound caused by a missile explosion which came from a warship of Israel. The shock wave blocked the air speed for a while. The explosion was very close. The room shaken. I run towards the window and I saw smoke coming from a kiosk in the jetty at 100 meters from us.

Four silhouettes popped out from the rocks that separate the port from the beach. Four children were running away from the site of the explosion towards to our hotel. I looked the windows of the other rooms and all my colleagues were standing there, trying to interpret the picture.

I turned my eyes to the beach again. The children were giving all they got. Their feet were sinking in the sand, they were pushing as much as they could to run away. The hotel with the journalists was only 50 meters away. The children covered half distance to reach what they thought as safe shelter. Then, they realize that between the hotel and the beach there is a fence. Next to us there is another hotel called Al Deira. The distance is 100 meters more, and the children are running towards there.

At that moment, a second missile explodes on the beach. Three of the children injured and fell on the sand. The fourth was injured by a shard but keep running until reaches the wall of the next hotel. Some colleagues run to the beach and take him to the safety of the open restaurant. He made it, but he is seriously injured. He is losing much blood, but manages to keep his senses and describes exactly what happened. Meanwhile, other journalists brought from their rooms a first aid kit. They tie powerfully the points over the wounds to stop the bleeding and put gauze until the ambulance to arrive to pick him up.

"I was feeling like they were following me with the cannon. It was like missiles were chasing our feet", he said to those standing above him.

Together with the rest of the journalists from the Beach Hotel, we went down to the beach towards the three other children, no more than two minutes after the first strike. It was already too late for one of them and the other two were heavily injured. It was horrible. The explosion hit them right on their feet. The description of the picture is not appropriate. The ambulances arrive and the children are taken to the hospital.

According to witnesses, three of the children were playing with a ball and one was fixing a fishing net, before the navy attack.

All journalists are trying to find an answer to the question why four children, 12-15 years of age, who were playing in front of our hotel, had been targeted by the Israeli forces. The logic resigns, so, we seek an answer from the more official mouths of Israel. We call successively, from 16:30 to 16:40, the press representative of the Israeli ministry of defence, seeking an answer on "why". "We are investigating the incident and will call you back", was the answer that we all received. Until 21:00, when i finished this article, there was no answer ...

From the hospital they told us that all four children finally died.

The colleague who took care of the wounds of the boy who managed to reach the hotel, walks away from the circle. He goes out to the backyard and asks a cigarette from a passing. He quit smoking seven months ago, another colleague said.

Two hours later, the locals gathered for the children's funerals, outside the hotel. They decide to follow boys' opposite direction to the beach, to take them to their last residence. The ball with which they were playing, was never found. It was lost in flames together with the fishing net ...


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